How Did You Get Here, Part 2

margo martindale-thumbOne of the things that I love to do with this blog, is go through the list of search words or terms that has brought people here. Goodness knows, I spend a lot of time googling people or things, yesterday’s blog post being yet another example of such behavior. I am a curious type, some might even go so far to say I’m nosy. Others might call me Gladys Kravitz to my face. I once had a boyfriend whose nickname for me was Nosetta Barnhart.

But these search results confirm that I am not alone. I am not the only person who wondered if Rich Mullins was gay or watched Airplane on cable and had to know more about Stephen Stucker. There are others who share my devotion to Mary Tyler Moore and Eve Plumb and Faye Dunaway’s iconic post-Oscar photo by the pool. I am not the only person searching the internet looking for Herb Ritts’ pictures of Richard Gere in a Speedo.

Also, this may be bad, you tell me, but I like that folks have found my blog by searching the names of friends of mine. It’s like Michael and Michele and Linda and Kellum and Rupaul are all famous or something.

And finally, your searches will illicit my own searches. As soon as I post this, I am totally going to search the internet and find out what church Deborah Foreman does belong to. I want to know, IS Chris Kattan a jerk? Maybe I’ll find that topless Maureen Teefy photo as well as “themes for dorms for Christian guys.” DID Amy Grant and Joel Osteen ever meet?

The one thing I know for sure, is that we are all unique. Some of us are obsessed with 1970s sitcoms, others of us are obsessed with men in Speedos. The cool thing is, with only a few exceptions, this list could be a printout of the way my brain works. These people’s interests are my interests too. I always think, as imperfect as this blog is, I would love to be doing a search for Suzanne Pleshette and stumble across Easily Crestfallen. So, however you found me, I am glad you are here. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are a bit of an oddball. You and I might be the only two people in the world who are obsessed with that song from the end of Longtime Companion, but that’s okay. We are in good company!

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Dear Robert Brustein,

  Dear Robert Brustein,

Just two days ago, I didn’t even know who you were and now, since reading about you in the William Inge biography, written by Ralph Voss, A Life of William Inge, The Strains of Triumph, I have been scouring the internet, searching for all that I can glean about the man named Robert Brustein, the theatre critic, who some say instigated the beginning of the end of my favorite playwright’s entire career. (Boy, talk about a run on sentence.)

Now, I assume you remember the details, but I’ll refresh your memory. In 1958, you wrote an article for Harper’s about Inge titled The Men-Taming Women of William Inge. Within the article, you called Inge mediocre, a “dramatist of considerable limitations”, and also, a “fiddle with one string.” You took issue with Inge’s “dry, repetitive and monotonously folksy” dialogue. You painted a picture of a playwright who would not be valued in the scope of time.

According to the Voss biography and other sources as well, when the article appeared, William Inge was so upset that he called you on the phone to protest, weeping as he spoke to you.

Part of my exhaustive google search over the last two days is an attempt to hear about the story from your point of view. In the book’s point of you, your article is labeled, the “beginning of the end” and the damage was so lasting that Inge was never able to recover from it. Don’t get me wrong, I know Inge battled deep depression throughout most of his 60, relatively short, years. I have read enough biographies to know that biographers tend to exaggerate the significance of certain life events and downplay the importance of others. Perhaps Voss exaggerated about the enduring effects of your article, which is exactly why I am writing this to you, I want your take.

I’ll tell you a bit about myself. I do not claim any sort of objectivity about Inge. I grew up in his hometown, Independence, Kansas. Like his Sonny in Dark at the Top of the Stairs, I was always passionately devoted to anything that was about Hollywood or celebrity. I loved my books, too, they were a window for the world out there, the world beyond Kansas.

Every Spring, as far back as I can remember, my town held a festival honoring not only William Inge, but also the art of playwriting. As junior high and high school students, we were bussed to the community college where lectures and performances awaited us. In my senior year of high school, I played Jelly Beamis in a Inge Festival production of A Loss of Roses. When I read your (relatively) youthful disdain for Inge in that 1958 article, I remembered a conversation I had at 17, with the director of our play. During rehearsals in the aptly named William Inge Theater, I said, “I kind of hate Inge. His plays are too depressing, why doesn’t he have happier endings?”

That was nearly 30 years ago. In that time, I went to Bible college in an attempt to not be gay, worked as a youth minister, moved to New York, came out of the closet, moved to Los Angeles, moved to San Francisco, then back to Los Angeles. I have worked in plays and television, in restaurants and law firms. I have been in love and out of it, had my heart broken significantly no less than 4 times. I don’t mean to ramble too much, but my point is that, at 17, I had no idea what the trajectory of my life was going to be and how my experiences would mold the way I absorb and respond to art, any art.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the fourth row of the Broadway revival of Picnic starring Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Grace and Reed Birney. As a Kansas boy, I was certainly proud to see my little town represented on that big 42nd street stage. I had been as proud when I’d watched the 1993 Scott Ellis production with Polly Holliday, Kyle Chandler, and Ashley Judd. But this 2013 production, really burrowed into me. I’ve always loved Rosemary and Howard. I guess you may not appreciate that iconic scene, her on her knees begging him to marry her, but it get me every time. I’ve been the beggar on my knees and I’ve been the guy who wanted to get on my knees, to beg, but was so afraid of the consequences that I didn’t take the chance. I wept at the end of the play, it was the first Inge that my partner, then of two years, had ever experienced. We are in our forties, met in our early forties. When I was in my thirties, I never did not feel like a Rosemary Sidney, a spinster school teacher. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, if I can find love after 40, maybe there is hope that Rosemary and Howard can have a happy life. Maybe there is even hope for Madge and Hal.

To me, Inge’s work says there is always hope, even when it’s only a sliver of it. But let me stress, that’s my take. And my point of view is no doubt molded by my life experiences.

As I said, I have been on a mission to learn about you, Robert Brustein. You have accomplished much in your 87 years and that you continue to write and create is inspiring. You have been a director, playwright, professor, Huffington Post columnist, husband, father, critic. In a 2012 interview, when asked by the writer, why you aren’t resting on your laurels, you confided that you felt like you didn’t have any laurels, that you hadn’t “gotten there” yet. Well, I want you to know that you have gotten there. You have survived and thrived and, as much as this little odyssey of mine began with disdain, it’s concluded with a true respect and admiration.

That there is someone else who felt he never achieved laurels or “got there” is I’m sure not lost on you. And I must say, I wish Inge had had a bit more of you in him, that drive to keep going. I’ve read his later years pieces and without fail, there is always something in it, maybe it’s just a line or two, that moves me with its truth or perception. He wrote until the end of his life, I just wish the end had not come so soon.

So, here is the question, I don’t know how this might even find you, so, I doubt that you will be able to answer it, but do you regret any part of that infamous 1958 article? If you could go back, what would you change, what would you keep? Also, do you still feel the disdain for Inge’s writing that you felt in 1958? In the 56 years since, you have seen your own plays produced, endured the victories and challenges within, do you still see Inge the same way?

Last night, I was on Instagram, checking for hashtags. That there are only 200 pictures of #williaminge disappointed me. Maybe you have a point, maybe his enduring effects were not what the 1950s indicated they were going to be. It occurred to me that I should search for #robertbrustein, too. There were three pictures. One was a picture of a woman’s lips with a quote credited to you, another appeared to be some scaffolding and the writing was in Asian symbols, except for #robertbrustein. But the third picture was the best, my favorite. You are flocked by young college students, all clearly proud to be taking a picture with a living legend. And in the center, you stand, smiling, the elder statesman, not quite resting on his laurels, but enjoying the moment anyway. Once the critic, now the teacher. Sliver of hope.

The Differences

 

 A couple of days ago, I spent the afternoon with two friends from Bible college, Heidi and Greg, who were visiting Los Angeles with their teenage children. We walked around Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre and eventually made our way over to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was a joy to catch up with old friends and show them around my city.

Now, I know how my blog posts have a tendency to unfold. I tell a story and I say, either the people I am talking about are in the wrong or I’m in the wrong or we were both in the wrong. I’ve read the back log, I know the pattern. And especially when I write about any interaction between the gays and the conservative Christian community, I have a history of pointing fingers. Sometimes my diatribes are late night rants that I second guess in the morning. Other times, it’s something more thoughtful, a gentle nudge of “hey, let’s just look at this, how can we do better?”

Well, let me start by saying, that is not the nature of this particular blog. The hours that we spent together were lovely. I never felt a judgement from Heidi or Greg or their children about my life. The words “lifestyle choice” never came up. 

When we met, they had just come from a tour of Paramount Studios and they told me they got to meet Dot Marie Jones from Glee on the lot and Greg took a picture (or 3) with her. I thought to myself, good for them for wanting to take a picture with not only an out lesbian, but also someone playing a transgendered character on television. I honestly don’t know that every conservative Christian would jump at that photo op, but of course, it honestly moved me that these old friends did.

At one point in our afternoon, Heidi pulled out her ticket from the tour. She wanted to give the ticket to me because the quote on the ticket, credited to Cecil B.Demille, said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” There was a bit of awkwardness because I wasn’t really sure she was giving me the ticket or just showing it to me. And then she wasn’t sure if I really wanted the ticket. And then the ticket became a running joke throughout the rest of our afternoon, a punchline really. 

Heidi was one of my best friends in college. I know this won’t translate, how could it, but Heidi and another friend Sheri and I once went to a weekend conference to Lake of  the Ozarks (as glamorous as it sounds) where the entire time we kept singing this three part harmony song called “I don’t know.” All we did was sing “I don’t know” over and over and over again. Like Michael Row the Boat Ashore with significantly less lyrics. I KNOW, I told you the story wouldn’t translate but it made us laugh all weekend. It made us laugh for weeks and months and years after, too.

While I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was part of a tribe until I went to Bible college.  I just wasn’t skilled at making friends until my time at Ozark. And even though I don’t see life exactly the same way as most of my former classmates do, I still feel a connection to them. 

Tuesday night, even from the moment we said our goodbyes and our cars took us in opposing directions, I felt a little sad. I couldn’t quite name it, we’d had a great time, laughed a lot. There was still a connection, I concluded. We still have things in common. They are still the loving people I remember and I could tell, they are raising their teenagers to be loving, interesting, sharp-witted adults, too. I didn’t feel like their icky gay friend. (Note to self, HBO series pitch or perhaps just a great Katy Perry song: My Icky Gay Friend.) 

So, if they didn’t do anything wrong and FOR ONCE, I didn’t do anything wrong, why did I feel melancholy? 

It has occurred to me before, that I have spent my entire life feeling I need to explain myself. When I was a fervent, Evangelical high school and college student, there were always people who asked, “Why are you such a Bible beater?” When I came out of the closet, for years, I had people question why I would choose to be gay or choose to live the gay lifestyle. Even still, I get asked versions of that same question. I assume that, to some extent, I will contend with that for the rest of my days.

As I drove home, and later that night, I imagined the conversation Heidi and Greg might have had about me. That it was great to see me (I hope), that I’m not so gray or wrinkled or overweight that I’m no longer recognizable as the Ray they remember. But also, I imagined a sigh, and then, “He’s so special, I just wish he still loved Jesus.” In my mind, I did not imagine a judgement, merely a wish that I might still be a part of the club, or even better, the tribe, they are still a part of. 

As much as we will always have things in common, there will also, always, be differences. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

I’ve thought about that Paramount Studios tour ticket a lot since Tuesday. I did keep it. It sits on my desk now and when I look at it, I smile. This morning I saw that Heidi posted a pic of us with it, joking about my tepid reaction, and it tickled me. Nearly 30 years later, she still makes me laugh.

I always wonder how people see me, too much so.  I know. But I have to remember to think it without overthinking it. That maybe Heidi doesn’t think of me as gay or Christian or not Christian or lost or found, forgiven or I don’t know. Maybe she just thinks of me as a storyteller.

And she is part of my story, as I am part of hers.

Are You There Linus? It’s Me, Charlie.

nopimpLast week when I was writing the piece called Happiness, you know the one where I promised to stop blogging forever, I went to YouTube to watch videos of grade school and high school kids in productions of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Because it was my happiest moment, I thought I might learn something from watching videos of another generation poring their hearts and souls into Happiness the same way my 4th and 5th grade co-stars did.

I don’t know that I learned anything, per se. Kids are kids and dramatic kids are dramatic kids. Also no surprise, dramatic kids often grow into dramatic adults.

Yesterday, during my swim, I thought about where life took my friends who shared the stage with me on that hallowed Kansas elementary school production. I am only in contact with two people, one of the Lucy’s and one of the Patty’s. I’m not too sure whatever became of the other Lucy or the other Patty. Snoopy moved away in 6th grade. And I don’t even remember who played Schroeder. (No small parts, you say? Tell that to the person who plays Schroeder.) I do remember, and I’m still sure of this to this day, we were all stars in the making, Broadway ready. As if on the day of the last performance, we could have piled into Mrs. Tideman’s Buick Sportwagon, driven cross country and arrived in New York, ready to take it by storm. We were THAT good, we were Spring Awakening good.

If I overplayed every scene, my Linus, another 5th grader named Derek, deftly underplayed each of his. The tallest and smartest boy in our class, his Linus was nuanced and intelligent and thought-provoking. And the juxtaposition of 6 foot ten year old, holding a blanket and sucking his thumb, made for a pretty funny sight gag, too.

Because I was obsessed with all things Peanuts growing up, I sometimes had a hard time with the character of Linus. Is he a young Socrates or a pretentious asshole? I suppose what is brilliant about Charles Schultz is that he gave Linus his blanket (or his need for a blanket) and his thumb sucking to remind us that Linus is smart and is totally going to grow up to be governor or something but he also has his vulnerabilities. That being said, he isn’t alway the best friend to his best friend, in my opinion. For instance, when he saw that NO ONE was sending Charlie a valentine, couldn’t and shouldn’t he have sent one himself? Not one valentine for Valentine’s day? Poor Charlie Brown. Also, why didn’t he ever tell his sister to stop bullying his best friend? And you know that once CB and Linus get to high school, Linus is going to get invited to all the good parties and he’s not going to invite Charlie to them. “You wouldn’t enjoy it, Charlie Brown, just a lot of jello shots and senior quarterbacks trying to grope sophomore cheerleaders.”

As it turns out, my Linus, Derek Schmidt, is now the attorney general of the state of Kansas. In the last few months of 2014, Derek’s face and words were all over the gay press because of his role in Kansas’ battle to avoid marriage equality. In a google search I did today, I found this quote from the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, “Gov. Sam Brownback, the right-wing, homophobic Republican, and his equally anti-gay Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are trying their best to fight the order of the court.” And I know the gays tend to make sweeping generalizations, but I had to pause and ask myself, Carrie Bradshaw style, IS Derek Schmidt as equally anti-gay as Brownback?

It’s something I ponder. Yes, his role in this war is clear. He has been awarded the task of being the face and voice against marriage equality in his state. But everything I read that he says, he chooses his words so carefully, one still might wonder what Derek Schmidt truly feels about the rights of homosexual men and women. I wonder, if Derek was the attorney general for the state of Massachusetts, would he imbed himself in the fight FOR marriage equality?

I have seen Derek exactly 2 times in the last 10 years. I saw him the weekend of my 20 year class reunion and actually spent time in his home with a small group and he and his wife were gracious and charismatic hosts. Two years ago, he spoke at the William Inge Festival, and we chatted briefly afterward. He offered his condolences on the death of my father and I thanked him and told him my father was still among the living. If he felt discomfort about being in a room that was comprised of, by Kansas standards, an inordinately high percentage of homosexuals, he gave no indication. Derek has always had an simple, aw shucks, intelligence and graciousness about him. He had it at 10, when he was playing Linus.

I don’t know that Derek and I will have a real conversation about what he truly believes in his heart concerning the rights of homosexuals ever in our lifetimes. I am sure he would be guarded, choose his words carefully, wonder about my intentions. He is no longer Linus, I am no longer Charlie Brown.

I have a hope that eventually the tide will turn in my home state. I get emails from friends in Kansas who are ardently in favor of marriage equality. The last ten years have shown much progress nationally and I don’t doubt the next ten years will show even more of a shift.

As Schultz reminded us when he created the characters of Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy and Lucy and Sally and Peppermint Patty and the rest, we all have our vulnerabilites. If you’ve read even one paragraph of my blog, you’re probably well aware of mine. But I always thought there was something weak about Linus and well, I think the same about Attorney General Schmidt too.

This is conjecture. But I don’t think Derek wants to be the face againt marriage equality in Kansas, he just wants to be the face of Kansas. He sees this as his opportunity to advance his political career. It’s not about people, it’s about his career.

But for the rest of us, it is about people and I really want the gay people that live in my home state, a state I love, to have the same rights I have in California, even the same rights Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt have as a heterosexual couple living in Kansas.

Somewhere in Kansas, as I type this, there is at least one (probably more) highly emotive grade or junior high schooler belting his heart out to Happiness in preparation for a school production of my favorite musical. He will grow up in that state and at some point come out of the closet, not that it will be a surprise to anyone. He will hopefully fall in love and maybe decide to live out his life with his husband in Lawrence or Wichita or Dodge City or Independence. And this is my hope: that his best friend Linus from that long ago production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown will be there beside him at that marriage ceremony, that wedding, his best man standing up for his best friend. That’s my wish. And, good grief, I think it’s a sweet one.

Nothing Painful

high_tea_palm_court-3Here is the synopsis of a screenplay that I always think I’m going to write. It’s called Nothing Painful and it’s about a 40-something gay man who is deeply depressed. He decides he wants to kill himself. He does not have enough money in his retirement fund to actually retire but he has enough that, once he cashes it in, he can afford one last luxury vacation. In some versions, he goes to New York, a city where he once lived in his 20’s, when his life felt full of possibility. In another version, he goes to Paris, the city he’s always dreamed of visiting.

Our protagonist checks into his hotel, the Plaza, in the New York version and whatever hotel Carrie Bradshaw stayed at in the Paris version. As he checks into the hotel, he sees an attractive couple, his age, with photogenic children checking in at the same time. He looks longingly at the children. When he was young, he thought he wanted to have children of his own.

The next two days are active but dour. He eats baked goods at pastry shops, walks the city’s streets and parks, visits museums. If our budget is grand enough, there will be a scene where he walks through the galleries of the Met (if it’s New York) or the Louvre (if it’s Paris). After the Met (or the Louvre), he visits a thrift shop. (Do they have those in Paris? I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been.) At the thrift shop, he finds a simple, but evocative painting for 20 dollars or 20 euros. The shopkeeper asks if he wants to buy the painting. Our protagonist hesitates, sadly. Obviously, he has come to New York or Paris to end his life. Who needs a second or third or fourth hand amateur painting? But he has the money and it calls to him, so he buys it. He walks down the streets of New York or Paris with the brown papered parcel in his hands, back to his hotel.

Shoot, I forgot to say that we know early on, before he even lands in New York or Paris that he has decided to take pills to kill himself. He had studied suicide strategies on the internet and he’d settled on pills because he wanted “nothing painful.” When he returns to his room, he unwraps the painting and leans it against the bureau. He takes off his shoes, maybe strips down to his underwear if the guy we cast is handsome enough, and lays on his bed and stares at the painting. He falls asleep.

The next day, his third day in New York, or Paris, he takes afternoon tea in the hotel lobby. (Do they have afternoon tea in Paris? Do I need to switch this to London? I think they must have tea in Paris because weren’t they having tea at the hotel in Sex and the City when Carrie met Petrovsky’s bitchy daughter?) Either in the Palm Court, or Paris’ Palm Court equivalent, our protagonist sits alone at a table with a view of the entire lovely, ornate room. With resignation, he orders high tea and champagne.

The family he witnessed at check-in, is also in the Palm Court (or Parisian Palm Court equivalent) at the same time. I forgot to tell you that earlier, after check-in, but before this moment, our protagonist saw the family either in the hotel or on his travels in the city and he witnessed unsavory behavior from all four of the children. Not ordinary, those darn kids stuff, but that brat from The Slap territory. Times four. He grimaces when he sees them.

His tea comes, as does his champagne. He stares listlessly at the bubbles. Meanwhile, the four terrors have unleashed their evil on the entire dining room. Lots of “I don’t WANNA!!”‘s and kicking adults in the shin and overturned pastry carts. Our Joe, his name is Joe, he is just that average, becomes more and more nervous and upset. This is painful. He thinks, these hellions are ruining my last trip to New York! (Or, these monsteurs are ruining my first and only trip to Paris!) He looks around the room, the juxtaposition of a historic, elegant hotel, decadently decorated pastries, cute tea sandwiches. And then he looks at the kids and the horrible parents who have allowed the melee. And he picks up his champagne glass and channeling his inner Susan Hayward, screams (or maybe whispers, which do you think would be more effective?), “I WANT TO LIVE.” (If he whispers, it’s more like, “i want to live.”) And he laughs, yelps even because he realizes that he doesn’t want to die after all. Sure he’s depressed, who isn’t!?!?

And then he has a Scooby Doo zoinks moment where he bellows, “I can’t afford this hotel! I gotta get out of here.” Cut to slapstick hotel room packing scene with Abba song in the background, just to, you know, remind the viewer that Joe is gay.

On the flight home, of course, the family from the hotel is on Joe’s plane. While they wreak havoc on the entire aircraft, (flight attendants tied down in jump seats, there is rifling through passengers’ carry ons, overturned drink cart), Joe smiles. He has learned that pain is part of life, part of his life, part of everyone’s life. In a more mischevious version, he might offer the bottle of suicide pills to the mother or father on the plane, “My gift from me to you,” he might say with a creepy Zachary Quinto smile. (Full disclosure: I am OBSESSED with The Slap.)

Our last shot is Joe in the airport terminal, LAX perhaps, he stares ahead, thrift shop painting in one hand, suitcase in the other. We see the bright sunshine, through the revolving doors. Joe stands still, the conveyer belt moves him toward those doors. Life itself is propelling him home. Fade to whiteout.

Is it morbid or worrisome to admit to having a suicide fantasy? This morning, when I woke up early and couldn’t fall back to sleep, I thought, I am so sad, I just want to be happy again. I knew the pain, in that moment, was not suicide-inducing, but when it gets dark, I always wonder, what will I do when it gets darker? Will I someday reach a point where I truly want my life to end? I mean, I don’t know.

I suppose it’s a healthy sign that even my suicide fantasy ends with me choosing life. (Here’s a twist you didn’t see coming: Joe is based on me.) The other thing I thought about this morning, truly, is that if at some point I plan to end it all, I should really try to spend a bit of my 401K money before I do it. And the fact that I can fantasize about a fancy trip to a luxury hotel (checking in before I check out) is heartening.

This day ended up so much happier than it started. Sure there was the return to the blog and the return to Facebook, which were not insignificant, but more than that, I just had a really nice day. I went for a swim, then lay in the sun for a few minutes before going home. I made an amazing salami, provolone and arugula sandwich. Eric and I went to a museum we’d always talked about visiting, went to Starbucks, drove through Chinatown, went to dinner. Just a strand of beautiful moments. And those moments are woven into other beautiful moments, and also some painful moments, and they all come together to make the fabric that is my life.

As we were driving down Wilshire, I read, on Facebook, that a friend of a friend died this week by his own hand. Because I am obsessed with all things death related, I went to his page and read the tributes his friends and family wrote. He was loved, and yet, he is no longer here with us, here with those who loved him. And I looked out the window, away from Eric. I shed a tear that I didn’t particulary want him to see. As we headed west, the sun setting, I wondered if I was weeping for my friend’s friend or for myself.

But I know, and I suspect that you know, too. I was weeping for both of us.

Well…



There is some irony that my last blog post, which was intended to be my last blog post, led to me adding a handful of new followers. As if even a stranger just stumbling in for the first time might be able to discern that I don’t always mean what I say. 

I’ll tell you a little bit about what the last couple days have been like for me. First, I must say that my post was not exactly spur of the moment, I had pondered ending the blog for months, more seriously in the last few weeks. I was on a walk on Wednesday and decided, definitively, dramatically, despondently, I am ending Easily Crestfallen.  I went home, sat at the computer for 45 minutes. If I’d had more time before work, I probably would have sat a bit longer and edited more, but I was working on a deadline. From a writing standpoint, I didn’t see it as one of my best.

I published the post and of course, several friends who subscribe to my blog left sweet, concerned, encouraging comments.  And you know, I appreciate those kind words. Most of those friends who commented I only know through blogging and for people to take the time to encourage another struggling artist, is a beautiful thing.

On Thursday, I awoke with a plan to start a new blog, a secret blog. I spent two hours creating two new email addresses, and a blog, called Jouncing The Branch. I hope I still sound humble, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. Based on A Separate Peace, that moment when the title character jounces the branch he and his best friend/competitive nemesis are standing on causing the friend to fall and become tragically injured. I was to explore the darkness within myself and us all. And I was going to feel free to be as unedited and cruel and petty and self-absorbed as I wanted. Also, since I am being honest here, I was going to talk about sex more, since family members would never be able to read it.

But, even before I published my first post, I knew I would always, always fear that someone I love would somehow discover this secret blog and they might be shocked or wounded or angered. Also, I thought, how could I ever promote a blog if I’m not on Facebook? 

Last night at work, there was a bit of chaos for about an hour. God knows, YOU know, I’ve experienced worse, but I did have the standing in the dish room, how much longer can I do this, moment. I’m just so sad, I thought. Waiting tables at 46, creatively stymied, poor, in a fight with one of my dogs. (Ricky. Don’t ask.)  I’m so sad, I have nothing. I don’t even have my blog. 

And this morning, I woke up, made my coffee, had an Entenmann’s chocolate covered donut. I am currently reading a book called Actress to Actress: Memories, Profiles, Conversations by an actress named Rita Gam. She remembers, profiles and converses with and about several movie and theatre legends. At one point, Rita is at her friend Shelley Winters Upper West Side apartment, interviewing her for this book. Rita asks Shelley if she ever had an affair with Brando. Shelley scolds her. “Just read my book. You obviously didn’t even read it, much less memorize it. A good friend would memorize it. I’ll give you a copy: read it.”

I loved the story because I can see it. Shelley and Rita, just eating chicken soup in the dining room of a Central Park West apartment.  It’s no wonder Shelley Winters had the fascinating career she had because she was so tough and strong and still could say, to her longtime friend, that vulnerable, “Hey, please read my book. You’re my friend. Here, read it.”

I realized this morning, I need this blog.  You might like or loathe or love this blog, but I am the only person in the world who needs it. At this moment, it’s my only platform and I have to make the most of it. Might I continue to storm out in a huff, only to return contrite a few minutes later, over and over and over again? Perhaps. 

For as long as I live, I am quite sure that my two literary touchstones will be Charlie Brown and Uncle Vanya. At the end of the third act, Vanya comes into the house, waving a gun, threatening to kill the professor. The gun goes off, no one is injured, and somehow, because he is Vanya, all is forgiven and, mostly, forgotten. As if, everyone in the house just thinks, oh, that’s just Vanya being Vanya.

And I suppose quitting a blog FOREVER and resuming two days later is just Ray being Ray. You’re used to it at this point. So, in other words, I’m back.  

If I have Vanya in spades in me, I also have a bit of Shelley Winters too. More vulnerable than tough, to be sure. It’s a sad little plea, I know, but if you are my friend, please read my book. Here, let me give it to you again. Read it.

Happiness

draft_lens9869081module88838141photo_1268076723Charlie_Brown_SnoopyIt’s a movie star interview staple. He or she is asked by the interviewer when they knew they wanted to be an actor. He or she mines his or her personal history and shares a memory of being in a school play or talent show, how they made the whole school laugh or cry or both and from that moment on, “I KNEW that’s what I wanted to do with my life!”. 

 Of course, it is not only the successful actors that have that memory. This town is full of lost souls trying to chase that high, relive that moment, at 8 or 9 or 10, when they stood on a stage and felt the entire world loved them. 

 The irony that my first great success at anything was my title role in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is not lost on me. Playing a hapless failure came naturally for me. Still does. It was 5th grade and I’m sure not more than 500 people saw my star turn, but even today, that high that came at the end, where the entire cast closed the show with Happiness, well, is probably the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.  

I’ve written about my many failed auditions in the last two years or so. It’s been nearly three years since the last time I booked a job. I’ve been lucky enough to have an agent sending me out more regularly than I deserve and yet, nothing.  In every audition, I second guess every choice I make because it feels like every choice I’ve made in the last three years is the wrong one. 

Last week, my friend Michael, because he cares, asked me what I was doing creatively. I told him that I had all but stopped writing and storytelling. It’s been years since I’ve been cast in a play. He asked me how I might be able to think outside the box a little, create my own platform.

I cut him off. “I don’t really want to discuss this. I can’t. I am stuck and I wish I knew what to do to unstick myself, but I don’t. That’s what I’d hoped to do with the blog. But the blog has just ended up being a failure just like everything else I have attempted.”

“We can change the subject,” Michael offered. And we did. We talked about what we were going to have for dinner and then the play we looked forward to attending. 

A couple of days ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. Maybe you are more evolved or just more successful than me, but of late, Facebook has become nothing more than another reminder of all my failures, too. I’d post a picture or a blog post and only get a couple likes. Does one exist if no one clicks like on their FB status update? It should be noted that the only person who noticed my disappearance was my Mother.

I’ve tried acting and sketch comedy and improv and standup and storytelling and writing and blog writing and most depressing of all, social media, to get the world to notice me, validate me. And for the most part, none of it has worked.  

So, the good news is, this is the last time I will bemoan my life on this aptly named platform I created almost two years ago. I am hanging up my keyboard, so to speak.

I came and I tried and I failed. 

I’m going to step away from the social media. Read some books, catch up on Empire. I’m going to feel sorry for myself for awhile and then we’ll see. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m done with this blog, but I’m not done. After all, I am Charlie Brown and the eternally comforting thing about Charlie Brown is that no matter how many times he’s down, he is never truly out. 

Thank you to all who read my story!